Sometimes I start movies in full squint mode. And let’s be clear, I watch a lot of movies I don’t talk to you about. And many of them? I run at 3x speed. Some I do other things as they are running. And this high-speed scrubbing ends the moment the movie dazzles, even momentarily. And with this movie, What Keeps You Alive? I didn’t just scrub, but I squinted as I scrubbed, and mainly read subtitles as the movie flitted quickly past my corneas. But something happened at minute 20, that I totally didn’t see coming. And with that? I rewound to the beginning, flipped it back to normal speed, and began again. And the
Sometimes I start movies in full squint mode. And let’s be clear, I watch a lot of movies I don’t talk to you about. And many of them? I run at 3x speed. Some I do other things as they are running. And this high-speed scrubbing ends the moment the movie dazzles, even momentarily. And with this movie, What Keeps You Alive? I didn’t just scrub, but I squinted as I scrubbed, and mainly read subtitles as the movie flitted quickly past my corneas. But something happened at minute 20, that I totally didn’t see coming. And with that? I rewound to the beginning, flipped it back to normal speed, and began again.
What is What Keeps You Alive? It’s a genre bending mind job of a movie that delights in breaking stereotypes. Not just breaking them… jackhammering them into oblivion. I didn’t even think this movie could be made. Like, seriously… I didn’t think this movie would be possible in our PC-skittish mindsets today. I really can’t say too much about that without spoiling the right hook, so you are going to have to trust me.
The movie is about a married couple, two women, Jackie (played by Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (played by Brittany Allen) who have decided to go back to Jackie’s childhood home in the woods. It was to be a time of discovery and growth as a couple after only being married a year. But, like I said earlier, this idyllic, quasi-romantic and fun time goes in the ditch at about the 20 minute mark. And I figure I’ll place this trailer here – but why bother with the trailer when all you have to do is click this link right here. And on this movie, in lieu of a trailer, I’m dropping in a song that Jackie played for Jules entitled Bloodlet, by MUNROE. Listen to this, and realize, this was played BEFORE anything happens…
Now, the reason that I chose not to include a trailer is because that thing just rips the right hook right out of this movie. If you haven’t seen it… and are OK with some blood splatter, enjoy a couple fantastically placed surprises? Then I’d highly recommend it. So just on my word alone, go see it and then join us back here to talk about it together. And with that? I’m now going to dive deep on the spoilers of this movie and talk about the twists and surprises completely. And I highly recommend you don’t keep going unless you’ve already seen the film. This thing is too good to screw up by reading ahead.
What Keeps You Alive Walkthrough
What Keeps You Alive kicks off like almost all horror movie in the woods start. We’ve got an old cabin, filled with hunting trophies, shotguns, and other methods of murder. Said cabin, surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods. An enormous lake. We have everything we need save for Jason or Freddie standing there in the front yard with a machete.
But I’m going to call a spade a spade here. I was off my game – 100% – because of the fact that this was a gay couple. Why? Because I assumed, walking in, that no one would be stupid enough to paint a gay woman, married, as a psychopathic terror. So for me specifically, I just didn’t see it coming from this direction. Which should be a tip to other up and coming movie-makers, ALWAYS choose the option that is seen as the obvious no fly zone! hahah. So when I reached out to Colin Minihan, I was certain that I made sure that I asked him about this.
THiNC. – “Was there broad resistance to you creating a lesbian psychopath serial killer? Seems like something one could easily get pilloried for lately.”
Colin Minihan – “No because I green lit the film myself.”
THiNC. – “And that, my THiNC’ing friends… is why I love independent film so much. What about reactions after the fact? Has that been troublesome at all? Personally? I loved the right hook. LOVED it. Totally didn’t see it coming. (Went in to the movie blind, so that helped.)”
Colin Minihan – “The reaction seems positive in the lgbtq community so far. That is because this isn’t a film about sexuality… It is a film about a psychopath that just happens to be a lesbian. Hopefully it is normalizing simply seeing a same sex couple lead a genre film.”
Anyway, early on, we get a lot of tips (that I didn’t see coming) showing us just how messed up Jackie is. Jules finds out that Jackie has said nothing about a best friend of her’s, who as a child, died while swimming across the lake with Jackie. Not only that? Apparently Jackie’s name is actually Morgan? Huh. And then there’s that song that she sings to Jules. (And way later in the movie, Jackie hums the song, Blood in the Cut, which is about as haunting a song to drop into a movie like this as you can get. Jackie is just one highly messed up individual. And then there is the name sake story, and Jackie tells Jules that we kill what keeps us alive… that the food that we eat, that is what keeps us alive. Etc. Which, is a sentiment we’ll get back to, for sure.
The Right Hook of What Keeps You Alive
After Jules rows out to Jackie’s childhood friend’s house to find out more about “Morgan”‘s childhood, Jules realizes that there is a lot more here than she realized. The day after Jules rowed over to Sarah and Daniel’s home, Jules and Jackie go on a hike out to a cliff. And Jackie pushes her off a cliff…
Yes. That just happened.
I literally thought it was going to be someone else entirely walking in on them to start the blood and mayhem. I thought it was the standard woods killer stereotype coming home to roost. Mentally-disturbed-recluse-with-an-axe-trope. But no. One of these two happily married people just pushed the other off the cliff.
But after Jackie goes to the house to practice her acting for the 911 call, and she returns to find Jules AWOL, Jackie gets her Rambo on in order to hunt her down. One of the greatest scenes in the movie, and one of the most brilliant acting performances ever? Was Jules, battered and bruised, hiding behind a tree and watching as Jackie is crying, and calling out to Jules to come out, and then to see her say to herself, “Oh shit… huh. That’s not working.” And then to snap back into crying and wailing mode again. And then to see the horrifying response on Jules’ face upon seeing behind the mask that she had been living with over the past year? So brilliant.
The Widening Chaos of What Keeps You Alive
When Jules chooses not to come out of the woods, and give herself up, Jackie Rambos up in full camouflage and a high powered dart gun. At one point, Jules self diagnosis her injuries and comes up with a bruised spleen, broken ankle, dislocated elbow, etc. Which becomes important for the final surprise right hook of the movie. And soon after, Jules is captured by Jackie and the horror is only just beginning. Because she is caught while on the lake, and Jules somehow gets Sarah and Daniel to come over for dinner tonight. And mid-dinner, while Daniel and Jackie are talking, Jules begins telling Sarah what Jackie (aka Morgan) has been doing to her.
And voila! Daniel has his throat slit by Jackie. And she then chases Sarah upstairs (her longtime, childhood friend) and begins stabbing her repeatedly. Two people down. One to go. But before Jackie kills Jules, she has a ton of work to do in order to get rid of Sarah and Daniel’s bodies. Out comes the axe and I think I might have wretched with Jules when Jackie began hacking body parts off of Sarah.
Jackie’s Backstory in What Keeps You Alive
As the movie progresses we begin to slowly learn more and more about Jackie. At first we know that Jackie generally has been telling Jules nothing over the past year. Nothing about her father. Nothing about her best friends “accidental” drowning. Nothing about Sarah, or that her real name is Morgan.
Oh, and now we start to learn more and more about her at a rapid clip. Like for example that Jackie’s first wife as named Erica. And Erica? She was 19, when the both got married. She happened to die when she drowned after having a few too many to drink. We also learn that Jackie actually killed Jenny, Jackie’s and Sarah’s childhood friend that had supposedly drowned. We know that because Jackie told Sarah, as she was killing her, that Jenny fought harder. We also learn that there were five or six others because Jules finds a box behind the bear head with all the lockets of the women that she had killed. Which puts her murder count upwards of nine by the end of the movie, no? Something like that. We also know that Jackie thought herself to be truly free, and more powerful than the average human.
“I’m free in all the ways you’re not. You are trapped by emotions. Weighed down by guilt. Your conscience isn’t your source of strength, it’s your Achilles heel.”
Yeah, we will get back to this quote later. Because, it is this quote that sets up the moral backlighting of the entire story… or lack there of.
The Final Twist of What Keeps You Alive
Before I detail out the what’s and the who’s What Keeps You Alive, I have to just drop this blanket statement in here and say, this ending was awesome. I loved literally everything about it. All the details were good details. So good. So basically, Jules gets the upper hand on Jackie by stabbing her in the throat with a tranquilizer dart. And then she runs. She gets in Jackie’s jeep and books it. YAY! Jules got away from the monster. Jules wins the day!
Except no, not so much. As she’s driving away, she remembers conversation that she had with Jackie where she said she was a bald eagle to Jules’ crow. This moment confused me enough, that I decided I would ask Colin Minihan about it.
THiNC. – “When Jules remembers the Jackie eagle comment from earlier in their relationship, what makes her go back? She was safe! Standing up to a bully sort of sentiment?”
Colin Minihan – “Believing she can stop her from doing it again (is smarter). Lead on by seeing the crow on the power line and remembering their conversation.”
So obviously, Jackie’s spirit of entitlement incensed her. Jules was not going to allow Jackie to be the bald eagle to her crow. She was going to finish this fight and she’d prove Jackie wrong.
Only glitch? When she gets back, Jackie is gone. So she pulls a Say Anything, and cranks the stereo in the house in order to send the message that she is at the house and is waiting. But ultimately, Jackie gets the upper hand and kills Julie. We see the fight from the floor below as the camera follows the pair as they struggle from one room to another, making the lamp downstairs sway as they go at it. (Which, I have to say was a brilliant cinematographical (?) choice. Adored everything about that scene.) And when Jackie came downstairs as the winner of the struggle, I half expected her to fall over with a knife in her back. But no! Jackie won the day!
But wait! Jackie needs her insulin! She’s been without it for the better part of a day at least. She’s shaking, and not doing well. So, she hurries over to her syringe and vial of insulin. Phew! She gets a dose, and then notices the laptop that Jules had opened has a single file on the desktop there. HRM. And just like that, back from the dead, is Jules. What does Jules have to say to Jackie? Well apparently, Jules replaced Jackie’s insulin with Hydrogen Peroxide. And apparently, injecting Hydrogen Peroxide apparently causes blood clots, which in turn, will cause seizures and death, when they hit Jackie’s brain. Good times. And with that, Jackie goes beastmode, and starts hauling it into the woods. She ultimately dies writhing in pain in the grass.
A Few Moral Philosophical Considerations About What Keeps Us Alive
So, when I originally wrote this review, there were a few key details that just lit my cortex on fire. Like, just absolutely launched me into the stratosphere. Mainly thoughts on moral philosophy constructs from Hume, to Kant, to Nietzsche, there may have even been some Heiddeger in there somewhere. Yeah, I went, and I went, and I just couldn’t stop. But here was the primer of the reader’s digest version. Basically, I saw Jackie as a philosopher, arguing for a different ethic. She clearly stated the weakness of morals and morés. She clearly saw herself as the stronger evolutionary product philosophically. And I bit that logic hook, line, sinker, and fishing pole. And off I went. Now, if you are still interested in my rant… I’m posting it up for you über weird people to wander over and read it. But it was way too off topic, even for me… who adores a good rant. So if you want to read it, you can check it out here.
But otherwise, the long and short of it was, I believed that Jackie is correct. The natural progression, post a God-killing declaration by Nietzsche, and the subsequent death of a unified moral (relativism), is that we should naturally proceed to a king of the hill mentality that Jackie is espousing for in this movie. (Or more specifically, Colin Minihan, the writer and director). Stopping there. But it’s a simple enough idea – that post modernist philsophers logically abandon a unified moral, but they won’t take it all the way to a 100% relative moral. I’m not allowed to do whatever the hell I like. Which, I disagree with.
A Few Cultural Considerations of What Keeps You Alive
Outside of the moral questions… the other enormous thing that happened with this movie is the desensitization of homosexuals on screen. Which, could actually be argued for and against I think. But regardless, we have this gay, married couple, and one of them kills the other. Actually, one of them is a stark raving pathological, homicidal, raving lunatic. Which, was fascinating to me. Because, up until now, it sort of felt like gay movie characters could not inhabit the roles of terrifying characters. Because that would speak ill of gay people in general. That there was an unwritten rule in Hollywood that we can’t badmouth a gay character. So to see this flip in this movie really caught me off guard. It’d be like if someone decided it was ok to kill a pet, or an animal on screen. That is currently one of the biggest taboo things in celluloid history.
But really? Is that what just happened? I might argue that even though we are given a number of fairly intimate scenes of Jackie and Jules together, what if Jackie wasn’t gay at all? We know that Jackie was duplicitous with her love for Jules. “Did you love me?” “No.” Jackie says without even batting an eyelash. Maybe she wasn’t gay at all? Only using this “affection” as a honeypot to entice other women to their deaths? Could it be that something happened in the lake that day with her best friend that caused her to actively chase down other women?
Final Thoughts on We Kill What Keeps You Alive
My philosophical implosion aside, I really was caught off guard by how much I enjoyed this movie. It was pretty bloody, and messed in the head. But the enormous reversal and switch back at the end was brilliant. Everyone dying through a clever turn on Jules’ part? So great. I just really enjoyed it. I also found the attempts on Jackie’s part at becoming this übermensche – this heroic overman – just fascinating. Obviously that wasn’t really in there, but you could see some of that in her character. Which I obviously found fascinating in that it generated 1500 words of rant in the blink of an eye! hahaha. What did you think of the movie?